Enjoy an excerpt from Ray Daley’s “Detecting Rogue Time Travellers (Practical Exam)” featured in our new anthology ON TIME.
Doctor Bishop’s shoes squeaked as he paced before us, reading our exam instructions.
“Good afternoon, ladies, gentlemen, and others. Today, you’ll be using everything you’ve learned in the last four years in this practical exam. On the data screen, you’ll see your target. Your job is to find the rogue time traveller, mark them, and submit the proper request for their transportation back to their place of origin.
“Please show your workings out as to how you’ve determined those POG dates, please. If you have any further questions, raise your hand and wait for myself or one of the other invigilators to come to you. You have two hours. Your time starts now.”
I assumed that everyone spotted the idiot wearing the nineteen-eighties era digital watch in the very first second or two. If I’d been invigilating this, I would have kicked anyone out who hadn’t written up their POG request right away. I pulled up the various catalogue archives, showing when the watch was on sale, to work up a rough range. Looking the guy over, I isolated him on the image.
FRANCE, Eleven forty-nine.
Ah, the footwear. Air Jordan’s, version one. And the watch hadn’t gone on sale until nineteen eighty-five. Got you!
Place Of Origin Request.
To Whom It May Concern,
I respectfully submit this request to return a rogue time traveller to nineteen eighty-five. Location as indicated on subject capture.
Yours with all faith,
I pulled the mask off my first catch and quickly raised my hand. Gladly, it was Doctor Bishop, our course instructor who came over.
I gestured him to come closer; I didn’t want to have to speak any louder than I had to. “Hey, Doc. There’s more than one target, isn’t there?”
Doctor Bishop smiled, nodded, and lowered his voice. “I can’t say exactly how many, but certainly more than one, yes.”
Then, off he went to check that no-one was cheating.
One hour into the exam, most of the class had already asked to be excused. I remained by my display, scrutinising every inch of the scene they had allocated us to analyse. As I idly scanned across the scene, I had an idea. I tapped the data screen twice. “Isolate all individuals on displayed capture. Show the exact number of unique individuals?”
The data screen flickered a few times and masked out sections of the image. Finally, green text scrolled across the base of the display.
NUMBER OF UNIQUE INDIVIDUALS, ONE HUNDRED EIGHTEEN. NON-UNIQUE INDIVIDUALS, TWELVE. PRESS YELLOW TO SWITCH BETWEEN MASKS.
I pressed the yellow icon. Suddenly, only a few areas of the image were masked out. I took a few moments to realise why. The same face appeared, several times. Great. Many incidents of rogue travellers flouting the strictest law known to apply to time travel. No visiting the same scene more than once in your own life. When you time travelled backwards, your presence at the scene existed there in actual real time.
So if you went more than once, you had the chance of bumping into yourself. Not just a temporal faux pas, but a legitimate danger to the integrity of the time stream.
I picked out the first two incidences easily enough; in terms of physical age, they were separated by no more than a decade. I spotted a third, clearly from at least three decades later, judging by his grey hair. One by one, I locked their locations down, tagging each incidence to the others. But now, I had to send each of them back to their correct places of origin.
It wouldn’t do to send a guy back into the past of his own life.
“Facial ageing system. Track tagged individuals. Provide estimated ages. Run.”
I left the program doing its work and moved on to the rest of the crowd. One hundred and thirty faces.
One by one, I picked them out, analysed them. Checked their clothing. Ah. Nylon. Not invented in eleven forty-nine. I could isolate him to down about a hundred-year range, but not much more.
But what about the image itself?
“Image query? Consistent of merely visual data?”
NEGATIVE. CHEMICAL AND FULL ENVIRONMENTAL DATA PRESENT IN AVAILABLE SAMPLE.
Excellent. I tagged the guy I was looking at: Mister Nylon. “Carbon dating on tagged clothing sample. Full chemical analysis as well.”
Three minutes later, I knew exactly what kind of nylon it was, when it had been made, and during which time period it had been commonly used. The carbon dating system gave a ten-year window. Filtering that over the chemical data gave me one of two years.
His hat, or more rather the luminous green stitching in said hat, caught my attention. Running that down pushed him into a cross-reference that only fitted twenty-ten.
Ray Daley was born in Coventry & still lives there. He served 6 yrs in the RAF as a clerk & spent most of his time in a Hobbit hole in High Wycombe. He is a published poet & has been writing stories since he was ten. His current dream is to eventually finish the Hitch Hikers fanfic novel he’s been writing since 1986.